With renewed spirit, Park poised to dominate again

By Randall MellMarch 5, 2017, 4:13 pm

Get out of her way. The Queen Bee is back.

After a long layoff recuperating from injury, Inee Park didn’t take long to remind us that while she may already be a Hall of Famer, she isn’t done astonishing us.

Park, 28, showed Sunday in Singapore that she may not be done dominating, either.

In just her second start after a six-month layoff, Park beat a stellar field that included the top 15 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. Park won the HSBC Women’s Champions looking poised to reassert herself as a force at the top of the women’s game. 

With a course record 8-under-par 64, Park came from three shots back in the final round to win her 18th LPGA title. At 19-under overall, Park finished a shot ahead of Rolex world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (66).

Park won the way she always did at her best. She won making just about every putt she looked at on the Sentosa Golf Club’s Tanjong Course.

Park’s putter was so hot Sunday, you wondered if it was going to spontaneously combust. You wondered if her caddie, Brad Beecher, ought to be toting a fire extinguisher with her golf bag.

“My putting was amazing today, obviously,” Park said. “In the middle of the round, I felt like I could make it from anywhere.”

Park made nine birdies, seven of them with putts of 20 feet or longer.

“Her putter is really good, awesome,” said Ha Na Jang, who finished tied for fourth playing alongside Park. “I feel like she made every putt. I don’t think she missed one putt today.”

Nobody in today’s game is capable of demoralizing a field the way Park can with her putter. She deflates spirits in ways even power players with their intimidating length cannot.

Still, Park’s triumph was a tour-de-force performance about more than putting.

Park hit every fairway Sunday and missed just one green in regulation. Yes, the fairways are generous at Sentosa, but Park missed just one fairway the entire week.

“It’s a very impressive round, no matter how the course is set up,” said Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko, who finished tied for ninth. “To shoot 8-under on the final day, it's not easy. I think she should be very proud of herself for that. It was super impressive to see.”

After Park took control running off a string of seven birdies over eight holes in the middle of the round, Jutanugarn kept applying pressure. Jutanugarn was regularly bombing her 3-wood 20 and 30 yards past Park’s driver, but Jutanugarn couldn’t rattle the unflappable Park.

“She’s so calm,” said Jutanugarn, whose play at the 17th summed up the frustration that can come playing Park.

A shot down, Jutanugarn stiffed her tee shot to 3 feet. Park followed, pushing her tee shot 35 feet right of the hole. With Jutanugarn waiting to putt, Park stole the moment. Park buried her long putt.

“She’s awesome,” Jutanugarn said afterward. “She’s the best player.”

Park’s victory is more remarkable when you consider how much rust she ought to have on her game. She didn’t just shut down her game after winning Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro in August, resting six months to heal up ligament damage in her left thumb, going four of those months without touching a club. She didn’t play an LPGA event for two months leading into the Olympics. Park’s win Sunday in Singapore came in just her third LPGA start in nine months.

Park said all the time away helped her. It didn’t just heal her body. It rejuvenated her spirit.

“It was really important,” Park said “Because I was really just getting burned out.”

After earning induction into the Hall of Fame early last summer, and then winning Olympic gold late in the summer, Park said she wasn’t sure what she had left to prove. The time away made her hungry to get back on tour.

“My goal is to win a major championship this year,” said Park, who has won seven of them.

Park told GolfChannel.com back in January that the Olympics made such a large impression on her, she’s already thinking about a return to try to win another at the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

So get out of her way. Park has places to go again.

Getty Images

Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

Getty Images

Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

Getty Images

DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

Getty Images

LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.